"China-Burma-India" defined one of the Allies' operating areas in Asia. The XX Bomber Command's role in the CBI was driven by "Operation Matterhorn", the Allies plan to deliver supplies to China, and more importantly, to deliver on a promise the U.S. made to Chiang Kai Shek to bomb mainland Japan in April 1944. As of 1 April 1944, all the B-29s were still in Kansas.
XX Bomber Command constructed a large B-29 base in West Bengal, India for the 462nd to use. This area was controlled by the British, and had plenty of available land to build the bases needed to support the 58th Bomb Wing. While not entirely out of reach of the Japanese Air Force, it was a reasonably safe haven. The 462nd could bomb much of Asia from Piardoba. Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lampur, Cam Ranh Bay and other exotic places were all within reach, even if it meant setting new distance records to reach them. However, the 462nd could not reach Japan from India. In order to keep Hap Arnold's promise, the 462nd would need forward bases in China.
B-29s needed long runways...8,500 feet at a very minimum...10,000 feet was preferred. Not a problem. The Chinese provided tens of thousands of workers to construct everything necessary to run an air field. All the work was done by hand. The entire effort used only rocks and dirt, dutifully broken down, mixed and applied by hand to the field. And...the Chinese accomplished all this in three months.
"Getting there" was the next part. The original 462nd crews left their training base in Walker, KS and headed overseas between February and May 1944. Some went by plane (April-May or later departure), most went by boat (February departure). In the very beginning, the air route to India went from Kansas through Maine, Newfoundland, Africa and then India. It was not uncommon to stop 5 or 6 times along the way...many times to change engines, or to fix other mechanical issues. A 10 day trip was considered a fast one. The boat trip took over a month. Over time, the route to India shifted southward using Natal, Brazil as the departure point for Africa.
The Japanese had closed the only land route to China. Without an open land route, the 462nd took to flying supplies "over the Hump", a dangerous and challenging mission. The Air Transport Command usually carried the bulk of materials over the Hump; however, they were quickly overwhelmed when the 58th Bomb Wing arrived in theater. Bombs and fuel for the 462nd (and the other three Groups) had to be transported to China. Until the ATC could take on this additional load, the 462nd hauled their own fuel and bombs to China. A few 462nd crews pulled temporty duty with a provisional group whose sole purpose was to haul fuel to China in C-109s (converted B-24s). Some 462nd planes were dedicated to the sole purpose of hauling fuel (planes such as the "Petrol Packin' Mama"). When the 462nd accumulated enough bombs and fuel (it usually required 8 or more trips per plane), they staged their raids. Initially, these Hump trips were not classified as missions, and as such did not count toward the 35 missions needed to return to Uncle Sugar. The compromise was to count each round trip as a mission. Each Hump trip was noted by painting a camel on the left side of the B-29's nose.
These new environments were difficult to operate in. The phrase "we're not in Kansas anymore" took on new meaning for the 462nd. India was hot, humid, and rainy and took a toll on both men and planes. Tropical diseases such as amoebic dysentery and malaria made some men's lives miserable. Kiunglai was literally in the middle of nowhere, and had its own set of weather challenges. Culturally, almost all the 462nd men had never left their own home states, much less the U.S. Now, they were thrust into the poverty and deprivation of two ancient cultures.
The China-based raids had mixed results. Mechanical problems were certainly a big problem, but flying over the Hump also took its toll. There were few good maps of the area, and, of course, there were no satellites, GPS devices, or any other high-tech devices to use in navigation. Sextants, eyesight, and the ever changing maps were the best anyone could do. Planes crashed or were abandoned throughout this timeframe. Many lives were lost.
General LeMay immediately saw the tremendous logistical issues when he took command of the XX Bomber Command. He personally led a mission to Manchuria in December 1944 to evaluate the situation. Eventually, LeMay wound down the China bases and concentrated on targets reachable from India. The 73rd Bomb Wing had already settled onto Saipan by that time, and could reach Japan without having to use a forward base system. By May 1945, the 462nd migrated to Tinian to enter a very different phase of the war.
While flying from the CBI, the 462nd received their first Distinguished Unit Citation for the daylight mission to Yawata on 20 August 1944...a mission that resulted in their Commanding Officer spending the rest of the war in a Japanese POW camp.